It is impossible to write about the period of the Renaissance without grave misgivings as to the ability to render justice to a period which has employed the pens of many cultivated writers, and to which whole volumes, nay libraries, have been devoted. Within the limited space of a single chapter all that can be attempted is a brief glance at the influence on design by which furniture and woodwork were affected. Perhaps the simplest way of understanding the changes which occurred, first in Italy, and subsequently in other countries, is to divide the chapter on this period into a series of short notes arranged in the order in which Italian influence would seem to have affected the designers and craftsmen of several European nations.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century there appears to have been an almost universal rage for classical literature, and we believe some attempt was made to introduce Latin as a universal language; it is certain that Italian Art was adopted by nation after nation, and a well known writer on architecture (Mr. Parker) has observed:—“It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the national styles of the different countries of Modern Europe were revived.”
As we look back upon the history of Art, assisted by the numerous examples in our Museums, one is struck by the want of novelty in the imagination of mankind. The glorious antique has always been our classic standard, and it seems only to have been a question of time as to when and how a return was made to the old designs of the Greek artists, then to wander from them awhile, and again to return when the world, weary of over-abundance of ornament, longed for the repose of simpler lines on the principles which governed the glorious Athenian artists of old.
The Renaissance in Italy.
Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaele may be said to have guided and led the natural artistic instincts of their countrymen, to discard the Byzantine-Gothic which, as M. Bonnaffe has said, was adopted by the Italians not as a permanent institution, but “faute de mieux” as a passing fashion.